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Recently I've stumbled across China Miéville's novels. Apparently, they fit in a genre called Weird Fiction, or to be even more specific New Weird, where the "new" is used to distinguish new writers from literary sources as Lovecraft.

Yet, in my opinion, a book like Perdido Street Station could be defined as a crossbreed between fantasy and steampunk. In short, I'm having trouble understanding what the "New Weird" as a genre entails.

On the Wikipedia page a bunch of definitions can be found:

... according to Jeff VanderMeer and Ann VanderMeer, in their introduction to the anthology The New Weird, the genre is "a type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping-off point for creation of settings that may combine elements of both science fiction and fantasy"

However,

Robin Anne Reid notes that while the definition of the new weird is disputed, "a general consensus uses the term" to describe fictions that "subvert cliches of the fantastic in order to put them to discomfiting, rather than consoling ends". 1 Reid also notes the genre tends to break down the barriers between fantasy, science fiction and supernatural horror.

And then again, from a more historic point of view:

Part of this genre's roots derive from pulp horror authors, whose stories were sometimes described as "weird fiction".

My point here being that there is no specific consensus about this. So, a new author wanting to write a Weird Fiction novel will either find himself expanding the definition, or missing it completely.
After all, other genres can be seen as a breaking of barriers between fantasy and science-fiction (as steampunk, maybe) or fantasy and horror (dark fantasy or grimdark).

So, what would be the most important characteristic, the one that you absolutely cannot miss, when writing New Weird?

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    So...Urban Fantasy? – Cyn May 29 at 14:11
  • @Cyn to my understanding Urban Fantasy has a difference nuance, but again - the whole questions lies on the fact that I'm unsure of what the boundaries are. – Liquid May 29 at 14:20
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    Also, see tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NewWeird – Erk May 29 at 14:27
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    @Cyn: too fast :P sorry about that... – Erk May 29 at 14:29
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    I'm suspicious of any genre description that essentially says "we tell smart, compelling stories unlike those cliche doofuses in other genres". – eyeballfrog Jun 1 at 14:09
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Genre should be seen largely as a way of connecting a writer with the audience most likely to enjoy his or her book based on elements shared with other books. It isn't an exact science, and for this, a hybrid subgenre, you'll be looking for a signature combination of traits, rather than a single defining one.

I'm not previously familiar with the label "New Weird," but it seems quite clear, and I can readily identify work I've encountered that would arguably fall in that (non-exclusive) category (Dreams of Shreds and Tatters, House of Leaves, Coyote Kings of the Space Aged Bachelor Pad, Sandman, Black Mirror, Kafka on the Shore)*. If I had to redefine it, I'd call it

Contemporary magical realism, but with a horror-influenced sensibility.

It needs to feel fresh and new, not old and musty. It needs to have supernatural or science fiction elements, but it needs to combine those with a semi-realist setting, not a wholly fantastic one --even if set in an invented setting, it needs to give the sense of strange things intruding into the real world in which we live, rather than presenting an escapist fantasy. Finally, it needs a mood that is dark, eerie, disturbing, cautionary or horrific, not one that is twee, playful, childlike, mythic, wish-fulfilling or reassuring.

* Note, I'm not much for horror, so my examples are probably on the lighter end of this spectrum.

  • The Vandermeer quote mentions that it is a type of "secondary world" fiction. That means not "real world" – Rhys May 29 at 23:00
  • @Rhys "Secondary world is a term used by Tolkien to refer to a consistent, fictional world or setting, created by a man, also called subcreation, in contrast to the Reality, called Primary world.". the secondary world can be realistic, but of course it's not the real world, otherwise it wouldn't be fantasy (i.e. wouldn't belong in the genre) – somebody May 30 at 5:31
  • @Rhys "secondary-world fiction... [with] realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping-off point..." – Chris Sunami May 30 at 14:33
  • @ChrisSunami "complex real-world models" model being the important part. You write "strange things intruding into the real world in which we live" which implies something like the book is set in London and an unfathomable horror is eating everyones dreams (set in the real world, with something strange intruding). But it's more like real world models being applied to fantasy worlds (eg. it's set in Hobbiton in middle earth but poverty is a serious issue and theres a police force that is imprisoning the working class at a disproportionate rate to the upper classes) – Rhys May 30 at 23:05
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    @Rhys - I very nearly deleted my answer, because after all it's just a guess, and it sounded like you might be onto something more definitive than I was. But I looked up the synopsis of Miéville's The Tain, which Wikipedia identifies as the original, genre-defining book, and lo and behold, it's about "a man living in London soon after a convulsive onslaught by unearthly beings." With that said, I've edited my answer to encompass more of what you're talking about as well. – Chris Sunami May 31 at 0:32
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If 'new weird' is a reference to the Weird Tales of the likes of HP Lovecraft and other writings in the Cthulhu Mythos, I would imagine the primary trait of New Weird would be application of the fantastical in a way that implies it's incomprehensible, malevolent, unknowable and dangerous, rather than empowering, whimsical, et cetera.

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I believe your first two definitions are essentially in agreement. The most important characteristic of the "New Weird" is a fantasy story set in a fantasy world, where traditional fantasy tropes and ideas are subverted and replaced with something less neat and tidy and more complicated and unsettling. This new weird approach to fantasy might also be used for things that aren't fantasy, like sci-fi -- the genre is certainly a loosely defined one.

This is expressed by these specific parts of the definitions you give: "subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping-off point" "subvert cliches of the fantastic in order to put them to discomfiting, rather than consoling ends"

Here's another supporting quote: "New Weird exists to overturn cliches and twist the traditional."

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